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A. de Tocqueville before America

Childhood

The young Alexis; Anonymous

The young Alexis, anonymous, private collection
© AD Manche/Poirier

On July 29, 1805, at 987 rue de la Ville-l'Évêque in Paris, the third son of Hervé Louis François Bonaventure Clérel de Tocqueville and Louise-Madeleine Le Peletier Rosanbo was born. He was given the name Alexis, and his arrival was touchingly described by his father in the pages of his Mémoires. We know rather less about the years immediately following, except that the young Alexis spent them between Paris and the chateau at Verneuil-sur-Seine, the Tocquevilles' summer residence. It was here that the family attempted to reconstruct a universe that mirrored the small aristocratic world that the French Revolution had turned on its head.  play sound extractlire l'extrait sonore

« On July 29, 1805, my third son Alexis was born. His mother was sorry to have a third son. At birth this child had a face so unusual and expressive that I told his mother he would grow up to be a distinguished man and jokingly added that he would one day be Emperor. I believe that he will confirm the first part of my prediction and hope that he will not fill the second part. »
(Hervé de Tocqueville, Mémoires)

The few childhood memories that Alexis de Tocqueville has left us recall a world of nostalgia for the Ancien Régime, a world in which idleness and literary matters were the chief preoccupations.
In matters of education, the young Alexis was turned over to the Abbé Lesueur, who gave him a classical education and JansenistJansenism
A theological movement inspired by the Dutch bishop Cornelius Jansenius (1585-1638). Jansenism won adherents in France, the Netherlands, and Italy up to the end of the eighteenth century. Opposed to Scholastic theology, it was presented as the authentic doctrine of Saint Augustine concerning predestination and divine grace in relation to man's free will.
-influenced religious instruction. Alexis was extremely fond of his tutor (whom he nicknamed Bébé), who assumed the role of a second father to the boy.
His mother's fragile health often gave way to nervous attacks, but the overall family atmosphere was such that it aroused the jealousy of Chateaubriand, who took pains to point out, in his Mémoires d'outre-tombe Part One, Book XVII, chap. 1. (Memoirs from Beyond the Grave) that Alexis de Tocqueville "was more cosseted at Verneuil-sur-Seine than he had ever been at Combourg".

Louis XVI, the last king of France, guillotined on January 21, 1793

Louis XVI, the last king of France, guillotined on January 21, 1793 © PMVP

Archives

Birth certificate of Alexis de Tocqueville

Birth certificate of Alexis de Tocqueville © CHAN

Note written to Abbé Lesueur (at the age of six)

Note written to Abbé Lesueur (at the age of six)
© AD Manche/A. Poirier

Partially unpublished manuscript of the 'Mémoires' of the Count de Tocqueville

Partially unpublished manuscript of the Mémoires of the Count de Tocqueville
© AD Manche/A. Poirier

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